His sole split down the center,
heel hung out and hitched
on a thorn, stained a white
rose with his blood. The story
set him forth. A prick scratched
over his shin, a gash slashed
on his brow from a razor leaf
in a vertical jungle of vines,
forest of sticky purple fruit
whose juice numbed
his tongue, broken brambles
woven in a sharp blanket
that ripped the tip
of his finger clean off
his hand; every gouge
was worth the price
of admission. Vestiges
of the unworthy dangled
from stems thick and oozing
with orange sap, a bone here,
a rusted scythe or dagger
trapped in the branches.
When he finally clutched
The splintery sill with a swollen,
syrupy, red-soaked hand,
he shouted triumphant agony
to the sky. Dull, brown sparrows
darted off, fluttering a trail
of down that stuck
to his sweat. A startled squirrel
sank its teeth into his nose
before scrambling from the smilax
that sequestered his prize
behind thicket and stone: cold castle
wet with musty tapestries of
moldy hunters and black,
threadbare hounds. He dragged
his hand along the wall,
memorized texture, imagined
the halls warming from frigid gray
to red pulsing, stretching, grasping
inward toward his treasure, object
of his heart: the chamber
where she slept and waited for the one
who survived to make her
survive. Her entrance dripped
dank green and he stood,
battered, by the bedpost.
Another touch and he’d have
what he deserved: beautiful, silent
bride, grateful king, acreage,
and a crown. The prong scratched
his thigh when he loosened
his belt, blood beaded
as he prepared to breech
the gauzy white membrane
between them. Its hundred years
of dust coated his eyes. One tug,
and the last defense disintegrated,
woody thick limbs linked,
locked and shut out the light. No way
out, the reward had chosen
the man; all was his to command:
the sagging skin and white
sunken blue of the eyes, the stiff
veins like petrified, pink worms
which poked through the frayed,
yellow hair. The sour lips
sloughed in his mouth, slid
down his throat. He lay alongside
the fragile figure, stroked the flesh,
pulled it from the pubis. He held her,
wet paper doll in spider web
wedding weeds, willing receptacle.
That night, he turned to her
in their sunken bed, spent
into her skeleton, and dreamed
of boys dead in the hedge, their
last belief that on the other side
lay something certain.